Spring is back, the weather here in Ohio is slowly starting to get warmer and the grass is gradually getting greener. On top of it all, the 2013 Indy Lights war is underway, with one battle finished, and 11 to go.
The first battle is always the hardest, there is so much anticipation, and it's probably the most nerve-racking time for a driver, with Indy running a very close second.
With the opener out of the way, now it's time to settle in and focus on the big picture and that's the championship. That in mind, it's going to all come down to making sure you finish every lap, of every practice session, qualifying session, and most importantly, every race to have a shot at the end of the season. It's all about consistency and not taking too many unnecessary risks.
Watching the Firestone Indy Lights broadcast on NBC Sports Network, it was apparent that the field wasn't as big as we'd like – nine entries doesn't sound or look like a lot, but the competition this year between those nine drivers has never been greater! I believe that any of the nine in the field has what it takes to win a race, let alone the championship. They are all very strong drivers, some returning for a second year in the FIL series like my teammate Carlos Munoz, and guys who I raced with all year in 2012 in what is now the Pro Mazda Series.
I was quickly reminded of this group of talent as soon as we got the first practice under way! The whole field on the tight streets of St. Pete, we were extremely close throughout the first practice session until the very end of the race.
When it comes to racing on the streets, it takes a whole different mindset; especially with a 400-plus horsepower Indy Lights car. It takes a much more aggressive and risk taking style than you would have at a permanent road course or oval, but at the same time extreme concentration and precision due to the unforgiving street course itself.
As the track evolved and we worked on the car, we found ourselves P5 at the end of qualifying. Not the start I wanted but you learn from doing.
The biggest part of the weekend for me of course, was the race. 45 laps is the longest race I've done so far. So out of all of the sessions, I think I learned and benefited the most, from the race itself.
Like every other session, the race was very close. For the first 30 laps, former teammate Sage Karam and I had one of the closest battles on track. We were constantly pushing each other and I think that there's going to be a lot more of that to come this season.
Running fourth, I made a mistake behind Sage with my brake fade, and being in the dirty air with worn tires, and lost the car in Turn 1, finishing fifth. But like I said before, my goal is to make sure we finished every lap, fifth isn't a great start to a season, but it is a start, and now, we focus on moving up. Not an easy task, but I have a good feeling about Alabama.
The race this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park is definitely one I'm looking forward to. To be completely honest, my favorite tracks are permanent road courses and ovals, where it pays off to be smooth. We're constantly evolving on the street courses, but I feel I have a better grasp on these type circuits and I'm very excited to be getting back on a real track!
Barber has a lot of things to make racing there enjoyable – for the fans and the drivers. From a facility and a fan standpoint, in my opinion, it's one of the most beautiful tracks here in the states. Ranking right there with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and now the Circuit of The Americas. If you've been there before you'll understand; if not, all around the track they have statues and monuments that really catch you off guard – like a huge spider staring at the drivers as we're heading into a braking zone. On top of this, the site has an amazing motorcycle and car museum, that I recommend everyone to take time to see one day.
As a driver standpoint, the track is one of the smoothest we race on all year. It's very fast and with the elevation changes, it's much like riding a rollercoaster you're in control in…you can't close your eyes at the scary parts, you hold your breath and aim where you want to go!
There are two other characteristics that stand out though and these are what make our jobs as drivers a little tough. One of those being at the this particular track, tire wear happens a lot quicker here than most tracks, so working to save your tires in a race becomes extremely important…especially watching the rears for wheelspin.
The other thing being the nature of Barber being originally designed as a motorcycle track, is that it's very difficult to pass here. Without any mistakes being made, so you have to plan out what you want to do the best you can, while all at the same time, keeping in mind to save your tires.
St. Pete wasn't exactly a bad race for us – we still got good points for fifth – but we're definitely not happy with it. We'll always be pushing until we're in that number one spot; it just takes never-ending work and some luck. And luck is just when preparation meets opportunity, so my engineer and I have been going over a lot of notes preparing for this weekend. We know we have the speed in the car; we just have to put it all together.
We've got a good plan set up and after hearing Carlos talk about last year, I'm confident in the cars and the team, especially with what we learned over the winter too.
I want to thank K12 and Andretti Autosport for making this dream possible this weekend; we'll be putting in all that we have! I've also got a huge support system from my other partners as well – The Young Marines, ADS IT Solutions, Zakosi Data Backup, Replay XD, OMP, Bell Helmets, Firestone, and Art Rotondo.
I'm hoping to see some of you at the track this weekend, if there's anything you'd like me to talk about in my next blog, please don't hesitate to ask! Please tweet @ZachVeach or Facebook me!
Firestone Indy Lights driver Zach Veach drives the Andretti Autosport No. 12 K12 machine. For more on Zach, go to www.zachveach.com.